Francisco Rabal was a famous Spanish author, actor, and director born in Águilas, an old city in the far south-west corner of Spain. He served in the Spanish Army during the Civil War but later lived in Britain. His most famous works are five novels which have been made into major motion pictures. They are ‘The Merchant of Venice’, ‘A Man Who Invented Football’, ‘Love in the Lake’, ‘The Hard Dealings of Micks’ and his most successful work ‘The Bannered Butler’. Other notable works include ‘alusara’ and ‘la policia romantica’.
Rabal’s early work was concerned with themes of religion and Spain’s Moorish influence on Western culture. As he grew older his work moved towards crime fiction and tales of the dark side of Spanish life. A number of his stories were filmed in Britain and won awards for them. His novel, ‘The Mysterious Spanish Guard’ was adapted into a feature film and four television series were made based on it. Then he wrote and acted in his popular opera, ‘La Vida de las Mejillas’, a world tour of Spain by pirates, which was also made into a movie.
Most of Francisco Rabal’s major work after leaving Spain came in the form of movies, mainly in collaboration with him, with varying budgets. Some of his best were made in America, notably the film ‘El cavalio es tu?’ which starred Al Pacino. Other greats include Tony Coppolla, Will Smith and Ben Kingsley.
Francisco Rabal is one of very few Spanish actors who has achieved success with his art. Most people who understand what it takes to be a good actor, have only seen very bad ones. The social causes that he has promoted throughout his career, are all worthy of applauding. One of the most important of these is his participation in the 1964 march on Washington for civil rights.
His participation in this action came about as a result of the banning of the segregationist Frida Kahlo from a Spanish restaurant in New York City. This caused her to go on hunger strike, which brought worldwide attention to her peaceful boycott of segregated restaurants. Rabal then travelled to France to support her, and together they travelled to Spain, where they were met with mass demonstrations against racism and discrimination.
Following this, several other Spanish acting wannabes travelled to France to assist in the struggle against discrimination. Amongst this bunch was Francisco Rabal. In fact, he went on to direct and star in some of their best work. Most notable of all is his role as a travelling baritone in the award winning film La destined (The Dying Man) with Joanna Maran; an award winning role that won him every accolade. Rabal’s other major roles include the lead role in Amanpour (The Dead Man Walking) as well as the lead role in Papillon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
At the time of his death, though, Francisco Rabal was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in El hombre de la Isla de Ruga (The Hidden Face) with Jeanette Beauvaille. However, despite this success, he was widely perceived as a much less successful actor than those with more reputation. Much of this opinion stemmed from his previous image as the spaniels in King John’s hunt, rather than the lovable, flawed hero that he was for many of his films. His first three films that were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Iberian peninsula, The Man Who Played With Animals and La casa de Moore, failed to enjoy the same success as his last film, El hombre de la Isla de Ruga.
However, in all truth, there can be no doubt that Francisco Rabal was one of the most underrated Spanish actors of all time. He never won any Filmfare awards, but his work as a director and screenplay writer are widely considered to be some of the best of the genre. As a performer, he managed only moderate success, but even with such limited success, he remains a beloved figure among his Spanish speaking fans for his elegant and humane performances. Best of all, no matter what role he was in, he showed a sense of versatility that endears him to fans worldwide. In fact, his lengthy stay in Hollywood was largely contributed to the fact that he was never able to receive the recognition that many of his peers in the acting profession enjoyed.